Clark Quinn's Learnings about Learning
(The Official Quinnovation blog)

30 July 2008

Future of the Book?

Clark @ 6:25 AM

Last nite was the NextNow event on the future of the book/publishing/? Jay Cross really helped by adding significant data around and input to the discussion; a very public thanks.  He’s also blogged it, with video.  We had a very diverse audience of around 30 or so; many were authors, there were CEOs & entrepeneurs, artists and musicians, noted scientists, and more. Many shared one or more of my own publishing experiences, including as author, board member of a not-for-profit that publishes, editorial board member of a journal, and, of course, as a blogger.

After introductions, which already raised many issues, Jay walked us through the history of the book (Guttenberg was an entrepreneur, the first totable book was sized to fit in saddle bags), and we talked about the pros and cons of books.  We discussed our varied experiences with publishers, and there were quite a few unhappy ones.  Then we got into the issues.

As I mentioned earlier, Jay and I had come up with a few, including editorial ‘voice’ (who’s vetting the information), interactivity, volatility, ownership, and money.  Interestingly, as the discussion continued, others emerged.  Michael Carter raised an interesting point, that we were conversing about books and publishers, and they’re not the same things, and that it was really about matching ignorance with knowledge.  He also mentioned that the current chapter and book size is arbitrary, which is something I’ve seen in textbooks.  Christine Walker mentioned how our cognition might change without the book experience.  There was considerable optimism about setting information free, which I didn’t squelch with my concern about the need for ‘filters’.

We covered the ‘collected papers’ model, where proactive instructors or good editors choose appropriate contributions to a definitive compilation (with my note that most instructors just want to choose a text, and there are compilations that are just vanity projects without a representative or definitive sampling for the topic).  We also talked about marketplaces, and Laleh Shahidi mentioned a learning object model of content, of which there’ve been several experiments (including Propagate, a system that Peter Higgs launched way back around 1998!).  One of the ideas would be to have several authors to choose from, but then you’d need ‘templates’ for topics, with agreed structure.  One of the current situations is that authors present totally different takes on subjects.

At the end, it appeared that publishing is about 4 things:

  • development: the right choice of message and author for the knowledge gap
  • production: the right choice of presentation of the information
  • marketing: the right marketing of availability to need
  • money: the business model that surrounds the first three

The interesting thing is that with the internet (and on-demand printing), the production costs have essentially hit zero. There’s clearly a role for editorial choice, but at some point everyone can publish, and we need ways to find what we want, which is really about the marketing, which was clearly where many authors (including yours truly) felt that they were let down.  We heard of an interesting experiment in viral marketing, with Amy Jussell mentioning a blog-produced book. The question is whether such an effort is replicable. Of course, there’s still the cachet that comes with having a publisher choosing.  The flip-side is tha traditional publishers still take months from final manuscript to final print.

So, no answers, but lots of interesting issues.


  1. Clark,

    Excellent capture of the night…thanks for the notes and for your contributions!


    Comment by bill daul — 30 July 2008 @ 2:23 PM

  2. Clark: Bill Daul invited me to come, but I was unable to attend the session,so I am glad to have your cogent summary from the NN Collaboratory meeting on the Future of the Book. Amy Jussel and I are both “contributors” to the Age of Conversation (version 2) collection . I criticized the editors of the first version for lacking editorial filtering and then agreed to contribute to a slightly more organized version 2 soon to be published. Since AOC is published in ebook form it provides some basic topical structure but will still be underedited I expect and the viral marketing process is being driven by the editors who are Marketing or PR professionals.

    When I first started blogging in April 2006 I was thinking about the “networked book” to collect the experiences and images of the talented folks who do visual interpreting in organizational settings. Here is one of my first posts on the concept.


    This book is still a concept, but I am working with my colleagues on a new collaborative publication with the working title “The Seventh Discipline”

    I think, to follow your comment..” We heard of an interesting experiment in viral marketing, with Amy Jussell mentioning a blog-produced book. The question is whether such an effort is replicable.”

    I believe that collaborative networked books are The Future of the Book, and that the process if structured right can be the way for “the rest of us” to participate in creating these artifacts.

    Comment by dave davison — 31 July 2008 @ 7:10 AM

  3. Clark, wish you could ‘live blog’ some of the events I attend, as you’re spot on with your recaps!

    Amy Jussel here, adding my two cents on the blog-book-anthology effort that we did for Variety, the Children’s Charity.

    Wanted to give you the background and backstory of some of the viral/mktg. links we’re using for Age of Conversation, so here are a few posts with the full scoop, in case it helps. (It’s now on Amazon, but had to be ‘marked up’ significantly, which makes it rather unaffordable esp. since it’s a 100% unpaid charity effort. (their exposure makes it necessary tho, another ‘distribution/publishing’ issue!)

    This one is about the goal to push the ranking up on Amazon with a bum’s rush/author’s push using social media to try to gain visibility http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=1285

    This one is celebrating the $11,000 in 60 days: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=626

    This one is a primer ‘how to’ http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=544
    And this is where it started as an ‘e-book’ prior to even being bound in paperback and hardback and Amazon: http://www.shapingyouth.org/blog/?p=412

    Finally, here’s the second edition list of authors, policy, procedures, where you can follow the 2008 tactics, which should include some fun, fresh ones, too! http://www.ageofconversation.com/

    Thanks again, Clark for adding to the NextNow Conversation! Best,

    Amy Jussel, Founder

    Comment by Shaping Youth — 31 July 2008 @ 8:24 AM

  4. Clark,

    I haven’t been to a NextNow meet for a few years. I really wish I attended this one. I thought I would write down a few thoughts about books.

    I can’t think of many things that are more important to civilization than books. This topic is so important that it warrants a series of conversations – not about books themselves or the process of their publication but about their role in civilization.

    When looking to the future of something, like books, I tend to look at the past. In this instance, if we bypass the word “book” and broaden the topic by using something like “portable compilations of information” we might get a different perspective on what might lie ahead.

    What first comes to mind is the Nadi’s of India. These libraries are written on palm leaves, strung together. I believe they were written with pins that were dipped in powdered carbon. They are ancient. I understand they are preserved by rubbing them with peacock oil occasionally. Peacock oil? Certainly hundred and maybe thousands of years old.


    I remember meeting with a member of the family that maintains the “Suka Nadi”, the library of Sukadeva’s cognitions that is over five thousand years old. Sit down for this – the Suka Nadi contains astrological predictions for everyone who would ever visit the Nadi and asks for a reading. Suka, the son of the famous historian Veda Vyasa, was fully enlightened and could see into the future. Anyway, here in the Suka Nada was my name, birthdate and the date that I would arrive for my reading! Twenty years later I can say that the reading was 100 percent accurate. A historical record of the future that brings direct, personal benefit to the reader. Now that’s a book.

    Then there are the ancient cylinder seals of Sumer. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cylinder_seal They are like rolling pins with images carved, intaglio, into them. When you roll the seal across wet clay a pictogram appears, pregnant with meaning. They don’t have pages or ISBN numbers but couldn’t we call them books? They don’t rot or get dog eared pages and they can be printed on demand.

    This brings to mind a story a friend told me about another ancient civilization. The priesthood had secrets they wanted recorded but not available to the common man. They wrote their manuscripts using oil instead of ink. The oil would spread out on the parchment and be unreadable to those with pedestrian consciousness. Yet there would be an accurate recording of the writing impressed into the subtle tissue of space/time that could only be accessed by those with refined consciousness. The paperless office has been around for a long time. I wonder if they used peacock oil?

    All these compilations are techniques of recording higher dimensional meaning onto lower dimensional media. When we apply our attention to them the meaning unfolds in our awareness like a blossoming flower. The potency of the higher dimensional meaning is made manifest. The consciousness of the writer steps down into matter to tell its story to the consciousness of the reader. Its just consciousness talking to itself through bits of clay, paper and maybe a dash of peacock oil.

    Let’s invent new gardens where consciousness can talk to itself in future generations.

    Comment by Dave Gendron — 31 July 2008 @ 9:19 AM

  5. Thanks so much for the pointers and deep thoughts! Collaborative networked books may well be a way that consciousness can manifest itself to future generations. Love Dave D’s point about editing, often a place where things fall down. And I laud Amy’s viral marketing approach, I ponder if it might be harder to countenance such tactics for things that aren’t philanthropic! Still, for efforts to find new ways to communicate, may a thousand gardens blossom.

    Comment by Clark — 31 July 2008 @ 11:52 AM

  6. Ah…so poetic, Clark!

    I also agree with Dave’s point about “editing” for certain; it’ll be interesting to see how they do with the ‘part two’ AOC book with double the number of probono authors, because I’m wary some of the essays may fall into the self-promo category; though supposedly, the editors say that’ll get ’em bounced.

    On the collaboration issue, I don’t see why we couldn’t do a NextNow collaborative consciousness book and sell it on Amazon to help fund the org itself with all the heavy hitters and thought leaders we have in our group!

    It’s certainly a FAR deeper conversation with Doug Engelbart et al than my Shaping Youth kids’ ethics and marcom arena in the AOC endeavor! I keep thinking we need a ‘speakers bureau’ of Next Now-ers, because folks would pay to hear some of the leading edge thought-meisters in our humble lil’ group.

    Alternatively, we could each contribute a NN chapter and use it as a ‘membership giveaway’ for NextNow to go to the next level of sustaining itself as a ‘value-added’ proposition? Or to also go after grants in the innovation/education arena like the TED talks and such? —I know Bill’s been looking for ways to structure and balance the ‘invitation only’ social network models with tiered academic affordability and open access…

    The idea hamster in me is kickin’ in…lookout! ;-)

    Amy Jussel, Founder/E.D.

    Comment by Shaping Youth — 31 July 2008 @ 12:09 PM

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